The Philadelphia Phillies need a closer. If this wasn't obvious when the Phillies lost the NLCS to the Diamondbacks in October, you probably still have a fully operational TV remote and haven't had to fix any drywall in your living room.
Watching Craig Kimbrel try to close out a ninth inning was a mental chore for much of 2023. Sure, Kimbrel notched 23 saves over the course of the season, but getting there was often an excruciating ordeal. If anyone was the poster child for being unable to handle the new pitch clock, it was Kimbrel with his arm dangling by the side shtick and lack of command.
If we want to look at one area where Dave Dombrowski has failed since taking over as president of baseball operations in 2020, you can make an argument that it's with identifying the right guy to close out the ninth inning. He had a good run with Kimbrel in Boston, but he was hoping to catch lightning in a bottle this past season with a pitcher who has been on a steady decline. Trading for David Robertson in 2022 proved to be not enough as well.
The Phillies are a team built around high-priced position players, and the offensive firepower throughout the lineup is currently of least concern. The top of the rotation is solid, the middle and backend above average, and the bullpen features some nasty arms like José Alvarado, Orion Kerkering, Gregory Soto, and Seranthony Domínguez
But all of these factors weren't enough to get back to the World Series in 2023. This is the offseason where the Phillies need to sign or trade for a closer. It's time for Dave Dombrowski to stop with the band aid approach to closing out ballgames.
The case for signing Josh Hader
If the Phillies really want to create a team that can make a run at a World Series title in the next few seasons, they need to start by signing a guy like Josh Hader.
The 29-year-old left-handed closer is currently the top relief pitcher still on the free agent market. With the recent signings of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the once-slow hot stove season is showing signs that it's ready to start moving. Could Josh Hader be the next to sign?
The case for signing Josh Hader is an easy one. Over the course of a seven-year MLB career spent with the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres, Hader has 176 saves, finished 218 games, and owns a minuscule career ERA of 2.50, to go along with 648 strikeouts in 388 2/3 innings pitched.
With the exception of an uncharacteristically career-high ERA of 5.22 in 2022 while splitting time between the Brewers and Padres, his 2023 numbers were nothing short of a return to form. Hader saved 33 games to go along with a 1.28 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
So what's stopping Dave Dombrowski from making an offer?
That would be the reported price tag for Hader's services. Various reports have the five-time All-Star looking at a deal that eclipses that of fellow closer Edwin Díaz's $102 million, 5-year pact with the New York Mets.
While it's easy to understand the sticker shock in signing a closer to a $100 million-plus contract, consider that Díaz's contract has opt-outs after three seasons. With the Phillies needing a reliable arm to close out games, why not get creative in a deal for Josh Hader? What's wrong with a three- or four-year deal with a similar opt-out clause?
The New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Dodgers are all rumored to have interest in signing Hader. It's possible that all three teams, and even the Phillies are waiting for the price tag to come down a little from the reported $100 million-plus asking price. If the asking price for Hader does indeed settle into something more reasonable, Dave Dombrowski should make a call.
If the last two seasons haven't made this need abundantly clear, the time is now to bring in a guy capable of closing out big games.